The Ohio State Buckeyes opened as 9.5-point underdogs on NCAA football odds for the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans against No. 1 Alabama. They are the only new addition to the Top 4 in the final College Football Playoff rankings.
Statement Made Vs. Wisconsin
Ohio State (12-1) entered the weekend at No. 5 in the rankings and it was pretty clear that the selection committee wanted to see how the team performed under third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. He was thrust into the starting role when stellar redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, a likely Heisman finalist, broke his ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan.
Had Barrett been healthy, OSU probably would have been a touchdown or so favorite on NCAA football odds for the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin on Saturday. Without him, the Buckeyes were 4-point underdogs at sportsbooks. Turns out there was nothing to worry about. No team was more impressive on the final day of the regular season than Ohio State as it destroyed Wisconsin 59-0 in Indianapolis. Jones was 12-for-17 for 257 yards and three touchdowns. He completed four passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield, including all three touchdowns. Jones' three touchdowns were more than Barrett had on such throws in any game this season. All three TDs were to Devin Smith, who caught four passes for 137 yards.
Ezekiel Elliott, not Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, was the best running back on the field with 20 carries for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Gordon, a lock Heisman finalist (he's probably going to finish second in the voting to Oregon's Marcus Mariota), was held to just 76 yards -- by far his fewest in a Big Ten game this season -- on 26 carries. Gordon also lost a fumble that was returned 4 yards by Joey Bosa for a 38-0 lead. Gordon's longest rush was 13 yards; for the first time this season, he didn’t have a rush of at least 20 yards. It was tied for the fourth-largest shutout ever against a ranked team and easily the largest shutout ever by an OSU team against a ranked foe. It was the only shutout ever in a Power 5 conference championship game. That's pretty hard to believe.
The victory obviously resonated with the College Football Playoff committee as it moved the Buckeyes up to No. 4, dropping TCU from No. 3 to No. 6 and moving Florida State from No. 4 to No. 3. Ohio State's lone loss was when Barrett was still learning the ropes, a Week 2 35-21 setback to a pretty bad Virginia Tech team. Barrett was just 9-for-29 for 219 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in that one. He looked like a redshirt freshman for that game only.
The winner of the 81st annual Sugar Bowl Classic will advance to the College Football Playoff Championship on Monday, Jan. 12, in Arlington, Texas, against the winner of No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State. It's likely that Alabama would be favored against the Ducks or Seminoles but that OSU would be an underdog against either at sportsbooks. Obviously a big win over Alabama could change that. It's Ohio State's fifth all-time appearance in the Sugar Bowl and first since 2010 when the Buckeyes beat Arkansas. That game was later vacated because of NCAA violations committed under former coach Jim Tressel that led to Urban Meyer's hiring. Of course Meyer has a history with Alabama counterpart Nick Saban from Meyer's days at Florida. Alabama is 3-0 all-time vs. Ohio State but the teams haven't played since the Jan. 2, 1995, Citrus Bowl.
Ohio State and Alabama didn't have a common opponent this year. If you want to play six degrees of separation, the Tide barely beat LSU (in overtime in Baton Rouge), which knocked off Wisconsin 28-24 on the opening weekend of the season in Houston.
Coach Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes are 8-5 against the spread this season at sportsbooks and 11-2 'over/under.' They are +550 on NCAA football odds to win the playoff, the third-longest odds.
Free College Football Pick: While Jones should only be more comfortable with a near month's work of reps as the first-team QB, he will see a whole new level of defense in Alabama. Give the points.